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SUMESH ARORA — What makes you an innovator?



I nnovation has the power to transform lives and comes in all shapes, sizes and colors; from rural and urban areas; and in small steps and in giant leaps. Generally, when one thinks of innovation, the latest electronic gadgets or self-driving cars probably jump out as the most obvious examples. Innovation in Mississippi is actually evident in many areas of our economy, including agriculture, disaster preparedness, ocean exploration, energy, entrepreneurship, fine arts, government, health care, advanced manufacturing and, yes, rocket science.

The common thread behind such a diverse range of innovations is the talented and creative individuals who not only come up with great ideas, but are able to turn those ideas into reality.

The second part in this series on building a culture of innovation in Mississippi looks at the characteristics of the people behind such innovations and others who are willing to adopt new ideas early on.  Research conducted over the past six decades has established that the number of individuals who are “innovators” is a tiny 2.5 percent of that population. I call these individuals the “game changers,” who have the vision, drive, passion and the means to change the course of history.

Such individuals like Leonardo Da Vinci and Thomas Edison are not only responsible for technological innovations, but are also great thinkers like Socrates and Mahatma Gandhi who have transformed lives through their ideas. They can also be entertainers or athletes who have developed new art forms or set new records and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Generally speaking, innovators tend to be educated and have established family backgrounds with connections and networks they have developed far beyond their local communities. They tend to view failure in a different light.  One of the most famous quotes by Edison is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Interestingly enough these individuals may even be ridiculed by their peers and traditional neighbors at first, but they have the strength to ignore skeptics while learning from others as they follow their path steadfastly.  Steve Jobs, who is unanimously considered to be one of the greatest modern day innovators, did not shy away from controversy and continuously challenged the status quo to achieve his vision.

Mississippi has her share of game changers. The book Mississippi Entrepreneurs by Polly Dement highlights the accomplishments of over 70 individuals whose contributions continue to impact humanity; for instance Hartley Peavey whose amplifiers, speakers and other equipment have enlivened thousands of performances around the world, or Joel Bomgar who founded a company which helps troubleshoot IT problems for over 9,000 clients including highly visible brands such as eBay and Williams-Sonoma.  Besides his passion, Joel has always been very specific and deliberate about not losing his focus on the goals he wants to achieve. Several of these individuals have also been inducted in to the Mississippi Innovators Hall of Fame.

Mississippians like B.B. King, who is the embodiment of the blues art form, have also shown that humble beginnings don’t have to be a deterrent in charting a path to global success.  While world recently lost a great musician, we should strive to keep B.B King’s legacy alive in Mississippi by recognizing that he was as an innovator and an entrepreneur extraordinaire.  There are many lessons we can learn from his distinguished career, and a key one is to learn the value of leveraging our resources no matter how limited they may be.

There are approximately 3 million inhabitants in Mississippi, which means that we have about 75,000 citizens who are current and potential innovators.  But since we are only about 1 percent of the U.S. population, everyone in Mississippi could theoretically be a game changer and show the world how to find effective ways to treat diseases or build the internet of things (IoT) or deliver better education.  We have to invest in our people in a more inclusive manner and move away from a point of reference in the past to build a better and brighter future.  I would like to close with another quote from Edison: “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”  Next time I will look at how people adopt new innovations and how do we build an ecosystem which encourages that.

» Dr. Sumesh Arora is vice president at Innovate Mississippi, a non-profit organization with a mission to drive innovative business growth in Mississippi.  His doctoral research was focused on how new ideas spread and its applications to business, economic and policy development.  Follow him on Twitter @DrSumeshArora or contact via email at sarora@innovate.ms with questions about developing innovation strategy for your company or organization.


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